The Medicines That Could Kill Millions

Andy Coghlan in New Scientist:

Pills_2Imagine the outcry if 500 people in a developed country such as the US or UK died after being given a fake medicine. Then consider that in the early 1990s a similar number of children died of kidney failure in India, Haiti, Bangladesh and Nigeria after taking fake paracetamol syrup contaminated with a toxic solvent. Barely anyone noticed bar their families and a few doctors.

Their deaths represent just one documented case of a trade in illicit pharmaceuticals that claims countless lives each year. Victims, mostly among the world’s poorest, unwittingly buy fake medicines that often contain toxic substances or little or no active ingredients, yet purport to combat the most common preventable killers, including malaria, tuberculosis and typhoid…

Experts fear the trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals kills more people and causes more harm than the trade in illegal narcotics. And it isn’t a great deal less lucrative. In 2005, the US Food and Drug Administration estimated that worldwide sales of fake drugs exceeded $3.5 billion, but other estimates suggest the figure is 10 times as high. The Center for Medicines in the Public Interest, a charity backed by the US pharmaceutical industry, predicts that global sales of fake drugs will reach $75 billion by 2010 unless the trade is curtailed.

More here.